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Ethics Office Presses White House on Undated Conflict-of-Interest Waivers and More in Politics Today

by Countable | 8.7.17

It’s difficult to stay up-to-date on what’s happening in this country and to break through the clutter, so we’re here to make it easier. Here’s what we at Countable are reading today:

1. Ethics office will press White House on undated conflict-of-interest waivers

The Office of Government Ethics plans to press the White House to clarify when it issued a slew of ethics waivers giving its staffers permission to interact with their former employers or clients, an indication that the exemptions might not have been properly granted.

Ten of the 14 waivers publicly disclosed this week by the White House are undated and unsigned, raising questions about when they were put in place.

Particularly troubling, ethics experts said, was a blanket waiver allowing White House appointees to communicate with media organizations where they previously worked that was described as "retroactive" — a maneuver that the ethics office said was not permitted.

Read more at the Washington Post.

2. Trump’s tweets ‘a gold mine’ for Mueller probe

President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed – packed with more than 35,000 time-stamped missives dating to 2009 – offers a treasure trove of evidence for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his growing team of investigators, according to lawyers and veterans of past White House scandals.

Like emails, handwritten notes or transcribed Oval Office conversations, the @realdonaldtrump account gives investigators a detailed timeline of Trump’s thoughts and opinions – including where they might differ from official accounts – and can also be used to establish intent, which can be critical in a criminal investigation.

The president’s social media history also gives investigators a benchmark for questioning witnesses, and where evasive or muddy testimony could expose someone to perjury or obstruction of justice charges.

Read more at Politico.

3. Could Trump Muzzle Comey? A Look at Executive Privilege

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, is scheduled to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee next Thursday. That prospect raises a question for President Trump’s legal and political advisers: Should the president invoke executive privilege to try to block Mr. Comey from talking?

Presidents have claimed the power under the Constitution to prevent the other branches of government from gaining access to certain internal executive branch information...The scope and limits of this power are fuzzy. In practice, executive privilege disputes between the White House and Congress have often been resolved through deals to accommodate investigators’ needs without reaching definitive judicial rulings.

Read more at the New York Times.

4. Lawmakers ask whether looming debt left Jared Kushner vulnerable to Russian influence

Congressional investigators are seeking to determine whether President Trump’s son-in-law was vulnerable to Russian influence during and after the campaign because of financial stress facing his family firm’s signature real estate holding – a Manhattan skyscraper purchased at the height of the real estate boom.

And they are focused, officials told ABC News, on a December meeting Jared Kushner held with executives from a Russian bank.

Read more at ABC News.

5. Hurricane season starts with nobody in charge at FEMA or NOAA

The 2017 hurricane season started Thursday without anyone in charge at the two federal agencies most involved in dealing with hurricanes, National Public Radio notes.

Five months after Donald J. Trump was sworn in as president, no one has taken the reins at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in charge of preparing for and then dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane...Trump finally nominated someone at the end of April, but he has yet to be confirmed.

Trump meanwhile has made no move to appoint a new boss at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency in charge of the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service, which provide hurricane forecasts and hurricane warnings in advance of a storm.

Read more at Tampa Bay Times.

6. Some Hires by Betsy DeVos Are a Stark Departure From Her Reputation

Since her confirmation as the education secretary, Betsy DeVos has been the Trump cabinet member liberals love to hate, denouncing her as an out-of-touch, evangelical billionaire without the desire or capacity to protect vulnerable poor, black, immigrant, gay or transgender students.

But while Ms. DeVos has been reluctant to express sympathy for those groups, she has stacked her administration with appointees whose personal and professional backgrounds challenge the narrative that she has no interest in protecting those vulnerable students.

Read more at the New York Times.

— Asha Sanaker

(Photo Credit: Michael Vadon via Flickr / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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  • David
    03/08/2018
    ···

    Senators and Congressman, "But records reviewed by The Associated Press show Trump's top lawyer, White House counsel Don McGahn, has issued at least 24 ethics waivers to key administration officials at the White House and executive branch agencies." Why has ethics in government taken such a low priority? "The Swamp" is now rife with conflict of interest. Has a permanent Director of the Office of Government Ethics been Appointed? Is Congress overseeing the lack of ethical governance in the current administration? The Swamp is NOT being drained.

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